House Subcommittee Repeals Federal Syringe Ban, Taking Historic Step to Undo Years of Willful Ignorance

Press Release July 9, 2009
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Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430 or Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384

The House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies removed language from an appropriations bill that for years has banned the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs (SEPs). The move, which is supported by President Obama but still has to pass Congress, is expected to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

“As many as 300,000 Americans could get HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C over the next decade if the federal syringe ban is not repealed,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “There is no time to wait.”

Rep. David Obey,D-WI, chairman of the subcommittee and also chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said, “Scientific studies have documented that needle exchange programs, when implemented as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention for reducing AIDS/HIV infections and do not promote drug use. The judgment we make is that it is time to lift this ban and let state and local jurisdictions determine if they want to pursue this approach.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the more than 400,000 persons reported to be living with AIDS in the U.S. at the end of 2004, an estimated 30 percent of cases were related to injection drug use, either directly (sharing contaminated syringes) or indirectly (having sex with someone who used a contaminated syringe or being born to a mother who used a contaminated syringe).

Every established medical and scientific body to study the issue has concluded that syringe exchange programs are essential to reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases, including CDC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Medical Association. Eight government reports have concluded that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. No reports contradict this finding.

States are prohibited, however, from using any part of their share of federal HIV/AIDS prevention money to fund syringe exchange programs.

“Chairman David Obey should be commended for removing the ban,” said Piper. “We can’t allow ignorance and prejudice to stand in the way of a health strategy that will reduce HIV and save lives.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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